Equine Medical Director Term Limited by Bill
by Jack Shinar
Date Posted: 5/9/2013 3:09:26 PM
Last Updated: 5/10/2013 12:48:30 PM

The California Horse Racing Board's equine medical director would be restricted to serving no more than two, two-year terms consecutively under a state Assembly bill currently before a legislative committee.

Assemblyman Adam Gray, a freshman Democrat from Merced County, authored the measure, AB 1154. It would remove the CHRB's current equine medical director, Dr. Rick Arthur, from his $308,800 position by Jan. 1, 2018. Arthur, a successful racetrack veterinarian for more than 30 years before dropping his private practice, has been in his current job since being selected in May 2006 during the CHRB chairmanship of Richard Shapiro.

During the May 8 meeting of the Assemby's appropriation committee, the bill was moved to the suspense file and scheduled for a May 24 vote. Should it pass there, it would advance to the Assembly floor.

The bill's author is a former aide to Dennis Cardoza, a member of the Thoroughbred Owners of California board of directors and retired five-term congressman. Gray worked with Cardoza when Cardoza was a member of the Assembly.

Arthur is known as a reformer on medication usage in American horse racing. He has been in conflict with the TOC over the use of furosemide, also known by the brand names Lasix or Salix, widely used on horses to prevent exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhaging. The TOC is a strong advocate for the administration of race-day furosemide, arguing that its use is not only effective but also important to equine health.

While in agreement with the TOC over the effectiveness of Lasix, Arthur believes the drug is a performance enhancer that needs to be eliminated if racing is to overcome the integrity issues the sport is plagued with before the general public.

Asked why he thought this bill materialized, Arthur answered, "Well, I'm not exactly a wallflower."

One of the major duties of the equine medical director is to be chief adviser to the Kenneth L. Maddy Equine Analytical Chemistry Laboratory at the University of California-Davis on drug testing matters. The equine medical director is part of the UC-Davis faculty assigned full time to the CHRB.

The Maddy Lab serves as the primary equine drug testing facility for California's five permanent racetracks and eight seasonal fair venues. Funding for the drug testing program comes from a portion of California wagering revenues. The lab is a 29,000-square-foot, $7.4 million facility that opened in 1999. It provides routine drug testing for California racehorses and evaluates the effectiveness of medications and other products on racehorse performance. The lab examines blood and urine for the presence of unauthorized substances.

According to the Assembly's legislative analysis, "The author states the institutional knowledge of the lab should be broad. Ideally, several individuals should possess the knowledge and skill set to hold the position of equine medical director. The author believes that replacing the director every four years will develop a pool of individuals with the talent, expertise, and ability to hold the position of equine medical director, which will strengthen and ensure the continued success of the laboratory for years to come."

The analysis added, "The author's office asserts removing Dr. Arthur from his position, while intentional, is not the sole purpose of the bill."

Arthur is described in the analysis as "one of the world's foremost veterinary experts on racehorses."

He said the bill's intent to have several veterinarians serve in the equine medical director role is "absolutely not" a good idea.

"Like any other clinical practice, the more you do it, the better you become at it," Arthur said.

"It's very bad idea," he added. "No one is going to leave a successful private practice like I did for a position like this under those circumstances."
 
Arthur said he was in a strong financial position at the time he took the job and saw it as a good way to complete his veterinary career.

Gray's office did not return a call seeking comment on the bill May 8.



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